Home Theater 2008: Hi-Def Predictions

Before launching into my predictions for 2008, let’s see how last year’s predictions panned out:   Telco TV hits big: Verizon’s advertising in the northeast isnow heavily explicit about the benefits of its FiOS technology, including the video benefits. Featuring a cute little kid enthralled by the Verizon installation tech, it’s the first series ofTV ads I’ve ever seen that prominently features the phrase “true QAM.” You go, Verizon!   Flat panels plateau: I was wrong about unit sales but mostly rightabout revenue growth. Unit sales continue to soar, even in the current holiday season, which is slower than last year if you average all products together, electronic and non-electronic. But profitmargins have slid to the point where the only revenue growth is in the top sizes.   Video drooler hype keeps pouring out: I should just put this one in every year. It’s aperennial. This year it was the 120Hz refresh rate, a way of reducing image lag in LCDs.   Hot new surround technologies trickle into the market: Check. Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD, etal are rapidly proliferating in receivers, though in terms of signal sources, they’re still largely limited to the stillborn Blu-ray and HD DVD formats. This combo of rapid and slow progressaverages out to a trickle.   Blu-ray and HD DVD limit one another’s growth: Sigh. Is this everyone’s least favorite tech story of 2007, maybe of all time?  Surround receivers and amps go green: Class D amplifier technology achieved a huge symbolic victory, with the ICEpower variation capturing the soul of a very prominentproduct—Pioneer’s top-of-the-line receiver, the Elite SC-09TX.   Speaker packages getsmarter—though maybe not smart enough: The 2007 CEDIA show was particularly rich in next-generation in-wall speaker technology. But traditional speakers remained just a bit tootraditional. I am especially disappointed that equalized subs haven’t grown as fast as receivers with room-EQ circuits.   Granted, most of these things were easy guesses. I have a thingfor fish and barrels.   And Now, Predictions for 2008 Plasma and LCD will keep maturing but will not be replaced: These maturing technologies will continue to be bargainsfor consumers—that’s the cool thing about maturing technologies—even as they get less and less profitable for manufacturers. Successors like OLED are on the horizon, but Sonywon’t bring OLED to the U.S. next year and Toshiba has no plans till 2010. Rumors that Samsung has a 40-inch OLED prototype will be confirmed or refuted at next month’s ConsumerElectronics Show. SED, which might have made a big difference in 2007 had Canon and Toshiba been allowed to introduce it, died in a fusillade of litigation.   Rear-projection sets willwane: Toshiba and Hitachi exited this part of the video market in 2007 and shuttered the factories that made their RPTVs. Sony has just announced that it will also exit the category afterselling off existing stock. But the manufacturers who opted to stay in the market (JVC, Samsung, etc.) offer exceptional inch-per-dollar value and will continue selling lots of product.Front-projectors are a separate subject, and while I don’t have any predictions in that department—man, have you seen JVC’s D-ILA front-projectors? They’re amazing!  Next-generation surround becomes standard equipment: By the end of 2008, virtually no major receiver manufacturers will offer new product without support for Dolby TrueHD,Dolby Digital Plus, DTS-HD Master Audio, and DTS-HD High Resolution Audio. The penetration of these new codec’s into receivers may even buoy the growth of Blu-ray and HD DVD—slightly. Butthe benefits of these new surround codec’s will remain poorly understood; with the Dolby vs. DTS divide continuing to generate confusion. And some makers ofpreamp-processors—they’re sort of a cottage industry, historically less speedy at adopting new tech than the receiver makers—need more time to upgrade their products, frustratingthe sort of high-end consumers who actually know what Dolby TrueHD is.   Blu-ray and HD DVD will both survive—barely: Much as we’d love for one of them to go away,they’ll continue duking it out. The pricing breakthroughs of late 2007 ($99 for HD DVD players, $299 for Blu-ray) may slightly accelerate their growth but not enough knock DVD off the throne.I’ll throw in one big qualification, and that’s Warner—if it stops supporting one format in 2008, the other will declare victory. Paramount’s exclusive 18-month deal with HDDVD doesn’t expire till 2009. After that, unless the HD DVD folks cough up more promo bucks, Blu-ray may finally administer the knockout blow.   Download DRM will die, die,die: Much of the music industry has wised up, at least to the extent of offering DRM-free MP3s, both in iTunes and in the growing legion of non-iTunes alternative services. These will becomethe majority of paid downloads. The only reason for DRM to exist would be to support the ecosystems of subscription services, and while these are great options for exploratory music lovers,they’ll probably remain niche players because most people don’t want the contents of their iPods to go poof. People don’t like DRM and they do like their downloadsto operate in all devices. The more resistant parts of the music industry will just have to deal with those facts.   Audiophilia will surprise us all: Granted, the long-termtrend of consumers valuing convenience over sound quality will probably persist. But 2007 was the year Sound & Vision magazine, successor to the anti-audiophile Stereo Review,did a cover story on turntables! Miracles do happen. Tip o’ the hat to next-generation audiophiles like Josh Ray of SonicFlare.com. People who prize good sound will always be among theliveliest music lovers and most rewarding friends. Oops, sorry, I didn’t mean to give a sermon here.   Green technology will gather in significance: Crude oil topped $99in 2007. A looming energy crisis may prove to be the defining event of the next few generations (of people, not just products). If the top brands like Sony and Panasonic want to continue the growthin big-screen television, they’ll have to make sets far more energy-efficient. I continue to believe in the future of chip-based amplifiers, and in 2007, I actually bought the Sonic ImpactSuper T for my kitchen system. Someday it may be the only amp I use. 2008-09 will signal the high water mark of mega trade shows like CES and CEDIA—in the future, the cost of shipping all thosepeople and products around the country may become prohibitive. Gizmo manufacturing, like food production, may have to become less global and more local.   And so we knock 2007 on the head andhope it stays dead. What are your hopes for 2008?   Mark Fleischmann is the author of Practical Home Theater.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.